MEXICO, NY â€“ A craving for some chicken and a penchant for playing poker added up to $1 million recently for an Oswego County resident.
During the week, 40-year-old Charlene Hopkins of Palermo splits her time between her full-time job as a special education teaching assistant at the Oswego County BOCES, her part-time job as a clerk in the Kinney Drugs in Mexico and taking care of her family â€“ her husband, two daughters and three grandchildren.
On weekends, she regroups with friends over a fresh deck of cards.
Hopkins was introduced as Oswego Countyâ€™s newest Lottery millionaire Thursday afternoon at the Mexico Big â€“ where she bought her winning ticket. Gretchen Dizer, from the NY Lottery draw team, acted as MC for the event.
â€œIâ€™m a poker player. Itâ€™s relaxing. Iâ€™m pretty lucky so that makes it even more fun, for me anyway,â€ Hopkins told a large crowd of media, NYS Lottery representative, Big M staff and shoppers.
The reality still hasnâ€™t sunk in. â€œI still feel like Iâ€™m dreaming right now,â€ she said.
As much fun as her Saturday night poker games with friends are thereâ€™s nothing that compares with the feeling of winning the jackpot on a poker-themed Lottery scratch off ticket, Hopkins said, adding, â€œI buy the New York Poker ticket because it takes a little longer to play than most scratch off games. And, you really have to know how to play poker to figure out if youâ€™re a winner.â€
On Sept. 14 she made a â€œreally quick stop at the store in between jobs,â€ she said.
She wanted to get something for dinner because she didnâ€™t have anything at home.
â€œI flew into the Big M, grabbed some chicken and decided on the way out to use my change to get a couple of tickets out of the machine. I scratched the tickets in the car,â€ she explained.
She got the poker ticket and a CashWords ticket, two of her favorite instant games.
She never got around to cooking anything for dinner that night.
â€œWhen I scratched a pair of aces and saw the words â€˜Jackpot One Millionâ€™ printed below, I just started screaming right there in the car,â€ she said.
Her husband, Timothy, was even more excited.
â€œI ran into the house and told him the news, and he started crying. I started screaming all over again and he kept crying,â€ she said. â€œNeither of us could believe it.â€
She added since sheâ€™s won the top prize on this ticket, sheâ€™ll have to find a new favorite.
A couple years back, she won $1,000 on a CashWords ticket.
â€œThe first one I lost on. I was a little bummed. When I scratched this I had to keep looking at the ticket saying, â€˜it is not a winner, it is not a winner, this is not true.â€™ Then I just started shaking and screaming. I had to get home to my husband and tell him,â€ she said.
â€œBut you werenâ€™t sure you were a winner yet?â€ Dizer asked.
â€œRight. I couldnâ€™t believe it,â€ Hopkins said. â€œWhen I showed it to my husband and he started crying, I believed it then and I had to sit down.â€
â€œHow does this change your life?â€ Dizer asked.
â€œI wonâ€™t be working two jobs,â€ Hopkins quickly replied.
Hopkins claimed her ticket on Sept. 15 at the Lotteryâ€™s Customer Service Center in Syracuse.
There have been 76 big winners in the state so far this year, Dizer said noting that Hopkins makes 77.
â€œYou purchased your winning ticket right here at this store, isnâ€™t that correct?â€ Dizer asked.
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ Hopkins replied as turned and pointed to the exact button she pressed on one of the Lottery machines behind them.
â€œYouâ€™ve been working pretty hard over the last couple of years and this is going to help out a lot, isnâ€™t it,â€ Dizer said.
â€œBig time!â€ Hopkins exclaimed.
â€œI love playing poker,â€ the winner continued.
â€œShe takes all our money,â€ one of her friends joked from the audience.
Marti Peterson is one of the Hopkinsâ€™ poker buddies.
â€œShe takes all of our poker money. Especially our New Yearâ€™s Eve poker,â€ she laughed and then turned serious. â€œShe a good girl, a real good girl. This couldnâ€™t happen to a more deserving person!â€
The Hopkins have one of Petersonâ€™s puppies.
â€œI am â€˜grammaâ€™ to one of her puppies. Itâ€™s a mutt; we call it Little Tim after her husband. The puppy eats up all our shoes. So, now she can buy the puppy all the shoes she wants,â€ Peterson said.
As with most instant games, the top prize on the New York Poker is paid as an annuity.
Hopkins will collect her $1 million prize as $50,000 a year for 20 years. She will receive an annual net check totaling $33,015 through 2029.
She has some very specific plans for her windfall.
â€œI want to finish building the home my husband and I started five years ago,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ll definitely keep my day job. But, Iâ€™d like to have my nights back to be with my family.â€
She will also pay off some of her debts and then buy a camper so they can go camping, she added.
After the presentation of the huge symbolic check, Hopkins, Dizer and Bob XXXX owner of the Big M cut a large congratulatory cake (made in the storeâ€™s bakery) and everyone was invited to have a piece. Coffee and apple cider was also available.
Hopkins is the second Oswego County Lottery player to win a $1 million jackpot prize in 2010.
Debra Noyes of Fulton claimed her winnings on the Silver 6s game in March.
Other recent county Lottery millionaires include Katherine Burns of Mexico who won $1 million on the $500,000,000 Extravaganza instant game and Brenda Pluff of Parish who won $1 million on the Deal or No Deal instant game. Both players claimed their prizes in 2007.